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Speech at 102nd Session of the International Labour Conference “Building A Future with Decent Work”

Dr Amy Khor, Minister of State for Health and Manpower, Geneva, Switzerland

Distinguished Guests
Ladies and Gentlemen


  1. Governments everywhere seek a future of decent and productive work for their citizens. A future where our people are engaged in quality jobs in inclusive workplaces. The question is how each of us can best go about achieving this. I will share Singapore’s perspectives on this issue.

    Overview of Singapore’s economic and employment situation
  2. The Singapore economy grew moderately by 1.3% last year, amidst global uncertainties.1  Fortunately, despite the sluggish growth, the overall unemployment rate remained low, at 2.0%.2
  3. The outlook for the world economy has improved since late last year, although uncertainties still persist. Singapore’s GDP is expected to grow by 1 to 3% in 2013.3
  4. Our rate of growth will moderate going forward. This moderation reflects a new phase of Singapore’s development as our economy matures and grows at a slower but more sustainable pace, led by productivity improvements that we are seeking to achieve through careful restructuring. This is not the first time we have restructured our economy. Our earlier efforts in the 1980s and early 2000s were not without headwinds, but we succeeded and emerged stronger and more flexible than before. This latest round of restructuring will not be easy either. In fact, the adjustments we are prodding firms to make are painful in the short term. And the productivity-enhancing measures we have introduced will take time to bear fruit. But the government is committed to doing our part, by providing support to help businesses upgrade, create better jobs and share productivity gains fairly with their employees, and by investing heavily in areas such as Continuing Education and Training to help Singaporeans improve their skills and raise productivity. We are confident that the collective efforts of the government, workers and employers in the process will reap rich rewards.

    Enhancing employment and social protection amidst demographic changes
  5. As our economy matures, the texture of our workforce is also changing. Like other developed countries, Singapore is feeling the twin impact of low birth rates and the entry into retirement of the baby boomer generation. An ageing workforce presents a complex set of challenges, which no single response can completely address. One key measure is to support the continued employment of older workers as long as they are able and willing. Last year, we introduced a law which requires employers to offer re-employment to their workers from age 62 to 65. We have been encouraged by the smooth implementation of the law, and for this, we have to thank our tripartite partners for their efforts in promoting and preparing for re-employment over the 5 years leading to the introduction of the law. We have also developed various assistance schemes to help companies maximise the available labour pool, through job-redesign and training to hire and retain the economically inactive and older workers.
  6. Our population is also becoming more educated, with Professionals, Managers and Executives, or PMEs, forming a growing proportion of our workforce. We continually review our employment policies to ensure that they meet the needs of this group. This year, we will be amending our main labour legislation, the Employment Act, to ensure that more PMEs are adequately protected. We are also reviewing our industrial relations laws, to allow PMEs more avenues of representation.
  7. A key trend observed in Singapore and elsewhere is the slow wage progression of the low income group. We are taking active and targeted steps to uplift this group. We have enhanced a social security scheme called “Workfare”, to provide even more incentives to lower-wage workers to work regularly and upgrade their skills. Another example is the “progressive wage model”, which was developed by the Singapore National Trades Union Congress. The government and employers support this unique approach, which aims to help low-wage workers realise sustainable wage increases as they upgrade their skills and raise productivity.

    Tripartism and social dialogue
  8. I would like to end by saying a few words about the value of tripartite cooperation. Our economy has remained resilient despite the immense and complex global challenges we face. Importantly, tripartite cooperation and dialogue underpins all of the policies I have just shared with you. Tripartism ensures that our policies and measures benefit both employers and workers and win-win outcomes are attained. This is how we have worked in past decades and this will become even more important to how we operate in the future.
  9. Thank you.

1 Ministry of Trade and Industry, “Economic Survey of Singapore, 2012”.
2 Ministry of Manpower, “Labour Market, 2012”.
3 Ministry of Trade and Industry, “Economic Survey of Singapore: First Quarter of 2013”, 23 May 2013.